BWW Reviews: NYC Ballet Presents Jerome Robbins's Thrilling Choreography
For the second time this season, the New York City Ballet has paid tribute to one of the greats of Broadway. First the company celebrated the music of Richard Rodgers; now, the NYCB has commemorated beloved choreographer Jerome Robbins with a trio of short ballets. Some of the many shows with Robbins dances are Peter Pan, West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof. Robbins's range is astonishing (Peter Pan and Gypsy? By the same guy?), but so is his ability to work dances that are both economical and astutely expressive into dangerously sentimental material. I've often wondered when I will grow up and see West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof for the tear-jerkers they are. Then I realize that I have grown up, that I still admire these plays, and that Robbins's dances-which can sometimes demand too much movement and too much bombast of small ensembles, but regularly capture the closer, quieter moments without an single flaw-are partially to thank.
And for the second time this season, the NYCB has gathered together dances that run from ingenious to ill-advised to everything in between. Again, Robbins could pull off big compositions, but he couldn't pull them off with extraordinary results. The first selection of the night, Interplay, strains to fill the soaring David H. Koch Theater with sequences that, essentially, are glorified studio exercises. But both Interplay and the feature that follows it, the sublime Robbins-and-Leonard Bernstein collaboration Fancy Free, allow Robbins to display his highly individual talents. It's the final selection of the night-I'm Old Fashioned, a balletic homage to Fred Astaire-that over-extends itself the most, simultaneously grasping for reverence, humor, and romance and not seizing hold of any of these qualities. Despite the Broadway reputation, Robbins works best when he works in miniature.
Interplay is made up of four different movements: "Free Play", "Horseplay", "Byplay", and "Team Play". The NYCB production makes these movements flow together, and much of this has to do with the staging. In Interplay, eight dancers-four male, four female-come together, pair off, and compete against a solid azure background. Ronald Bates's lighting never changes too dramatically, and Santo Loquasto's costumes-pastel dresses for the women, bold-hued t-shirts for the men-set and sustain a tone of playfulness and preciousness.
In other words, you would get something like Interplay if you took West Side Story, removed all the grime and all the conflict, and re-did the dance sequences in afterschool-program colors. And I'm not sure that this poppy yet minimalistic production was the best way to bring out Morton Gould's versatile score, with its hints of blues and swingtime. Yet it wasn't a bad way to bring out Robbins's sense of composition. Robbins's tender duets and exuberant group sequences can get overwhelmed by the apparatus of plot, character, and sentiment in some of the plays he choreographed. Interplay has no such apparatus, only unfettered color and motion.